Terry Collins has forgiven himself.
In the immediate aftermath of Johan Santana’s no-hitter and for the years that followed, the memory made Collins sick. But he feels better about it now.
As the Mets’ manager on June 1, 2012 — eight years ago Monday — he allowed Santana and his surgically repaired left shoulder to throw 134 pitches to finish the game, the first and still only no-no in franchise history.
It was Santana’s 11th game back from major surgery that sidelined him for the entire 2011 season. And it turned out to be the 11th-to-last game of his major-league career.
A series of injuries, including another tear of the anterior capsule in his left shoulder, prevented him from pitching beyond that August.
The exceptionally heavy workload that one night might have accelerated the arrival of the end, and for a long time, Collins felt responsible. He always had sought to protect his players, sometimes from themselves, but that night he let a chance at glory and history win out.
That guilt is gone now, mostly, after dozens of conversations — one with Santana, the others with strangers.
“I look back now and I’m glad I did it,” Collins said in a recent phone interview with Newsday. “I’m glad he got the chance.”
The Santana talk took place almost five years ago, after both were quoted in a Sports Illustrated article for the third anniversary.
When they spoke to each other, Santana, who insisted upon staying in the game and never held it against Collins, reiterated as much to his former manager.
Hearing that Santana was at peace with it helped Collins feel the same.
“After that, I said you know what, forget about it,” he said. “He deserved his chance.”
Attempts to reach Santana for an interview were not successful.
Collins’ other conversations were with random Mets fans he encountered — usually in New York, sometimes elsewhere — who couldn’t help but thank him for letting Santana finish it off.
“Many, many, many,” Collins said. “I don’t know how many people were there, but it seems like 65,000.”
The official attendance figure at Citi Field was 27,069.
One man told Collins that he went to the game with his father, who had since died, which made the night that much more of a treasured memory.
As Collins recalls: “He said, ‘If I ever got to see you, I wanted to thank you for leaving him in, because it was one of the greatest things I got to do with my dad.’ ”
For Collins, those moments assuage the agony that began to build in the middle innings.
Before the game, Collins said Santana would max out at 110 pitches, maybe 115. But his pitch count was high throughout as he worked around five walks (to eight strikeouts).
In the sixth, Carlos Beltran — making his return to Queens after the Mets traded him to the Giants the summer before — ripped a line drive that nicked the foul-line dust. Third-base umpire Adrian Johnson ruled it foul, taking away a likely double. That was pitch No. 81.
In the seventh, leftfielder Mike Baxter crashed into the wall after making an off-balance catch of Yadier Molina’s fly ball. He badly injured his shoulder but prevented the hit. That was pitch No. 102.
In the ninth, David Freese swung and missed at a changeup for the last out. That was pitch No. 134.
As the jubilant Mets celebrated around Santana, a stonefaced Collins shook hands with pitching coach Dan Warthen, his partner in stress.
After the game, Collins said he wanted to take out Santana but “I just couldn’t do it.”
A year later, he said he still was “sick to his stomach” when he thought about it.
Two years after that, he told SI it was “without a doubt the worst night I’ve ever spent in baseball.”
Collins is still aware of “the damage it might’ve caused and probably did cause,” he said recently. But he doesn’t beat himself up anymore.
“He deserved the opportunity. He got it,” he said. “How often do you get to do that?”
Santana's Pitching Line
IP H R BB K PC/ST
9 0 0 5 8 134/77
Rafael Furcal flied out to CF
Carlos Beltran struck out swinging
Matt Holliday flied out to RF
Allen Craig flied out to CF
David Freese walked
Yadier Molina walked
Matt Adams struck out swinging
Tyler Greene struck out looking
Adam Wainwright grounded out to 3B
Furcal flied out to RF
Beltran lined out to SS
Craig popped out to 1B
Freese flied out to CF
Molina popped out to 3B
Greene struck out looking
Wainwright struck out swinging
Furcal lined out to LF
Beltran grounded out to 3B
Holliday struck out swinging
Craig fouled out to 1B
Freese popped out to 1B
Molina lined out to LF
Adams grounded out to 1B
Greene flied out to LF
Shane Robinson struck out looking
Beltran lined out to 2B
Holliday lined out to CF
Craig lined out to LF
Freese struck out swinging